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walkable urban environments « Previous | |Next »
June 23, 2009

Ryan Avent has an interesting argument in American Prospect about the causes of the global economic recession. Behind the fallout from the global financial crisis --ie., the decline in wealth due to housing and market crashes---there is the effect of the rising cost of oil on consumers:

it seems clear that the sudden and sharp increase in the price of a commodity so integral to all aspects of American life was very much responsible for putting us all in the uncomfortable situation in which we now find ourselves.

Rising petrol prices directly impacted consumer spending in that every additional dollar spent at the pump was one that could not be used for other purchases. The effect on households was most intense where commutes were longest, in the suburbs. So they switched to smaller cars and GM and Chrysler go down the tube into bankruptcy, turned to public transport and drove less.

Avent goes on to say that return to global growth in the future will mean a continued rise in oil prices. They are starting to rise now, and that rise will mean cuts to consumer spending and problems for indebted households. They are going to restrain their spending on other purchases.

And that represents a serious constraint on recovery. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be resolved quickly. America's geography and automotive fleet took decades to assemble, during which time transit and walkable environments were neglected and woefully underfunded. It is simply impossible to move any significant percentage of American households to within reach of transit or into a highly efficient new automobile in a matter of months or a few years. This is the work of decades.

Public transport and walkable environments were neglected in Australian cities as well, despite the increasing shift to the inner city living. If there are some moves are being made towards investing in public transport as part of nation building---I guess that the automobile-oriented nature of our current transportation network means that there are more shovel-ready highway projects available than public transport projects----little is being done to roll back the car to construct walkable environments in our cities.

Avent argues that capital spending on highways can be accepted if such spending advanced our long-term goals, but this balance of funding clearly does not. However, spending to repair existing road infrastructure should be balanced with investments in greener transit, rail, and bus systems if we're to effectively reduce fossil-fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

That is the sort of debate that should be happening on the Senate --not the current debates about what to debate. A debate that acknowledges that there is no money left with which to fund a green new deal and that government will only be able to pay off these debts only by resuming economic growth. The implication is that greenhouse gases grow because the economy grows; an economy still dependent on fossil fuel.

It is estimated that $50 billion of investment in energy infrastructure is needed to ensure the transition to a low-emissions generation. How then is the shift to a low carbon economy going to be funded? Through an emissions trading scheme-- the GPRS, for that is all that on the table. Can we hope that the CPRS prevents new coal fired stations being built and encourages alternative forms of energy. Or will the coal-fired power stations be closed down prior to the expiration of their normal life-cycle and the coal assets stranded.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:29 AM | | Comments (1)


Wong, Combet and Rudd need to make clean energy more attractive that dirty energy. Instead they are squeezing renewables.